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`Smart clothing': Making multimedia computers and wireless communication more personal - a paradigm shift in wearable computing.

Where published:
   author = "Mann, Steve",
   title = "Smart Clothing: The shift to wearable computing",
   journal = "Communications of the {ACM}",
   year = 1996,
   month = "August",
   vol = "39,8",
   pages = "23-24",

`Smart clothing' - the combination of mobile multimedia, wireless communication, and wearable computing - provides the potential to make "personal computers" even more personal.

In the early 1980s, when I was experimenting with wearable computing and wireless communications, people thought that some of the apparatus I was wearing was quite strange, and so I didn't wear it very much, as it was both physically and socially awkward. People were shocked by the visceral combination of human and machine, and even by the fact that a computer could run without an AC outlet. (People would ask where I was "plugged in", and look around my legs and the floor for a cord that wasn't there.) It wasn't until much later, with the advent of the "portable" and later the laptop computer, that people began to accept the idea of a computer without an AC line cord. Even then, people were still shocked by the combination of human and computer - there was something markedly different in the way others perceived a system attached to my body than having it carried in a briefcase or the like. But for me, there was a tremendous sence of self-empowerment, for it seemed as though it was more part of me than it was a separate tool. This sense of empowerment arose from its being contained entirely within my own personal space.

Mine was not the world's first wearable computer with wireless communications. Thomas Bass, in his book "The Eudaemonic Pie", describes shoe-based computers of the 1970s that were designed and built by physicists and other researchers in California, for the purpose of assisting them at playing roulette. It was remarkable that they were able to design these computer systems to be so unobtrusive as to pass the ultimate test of unobtrusiveness - the "casino test" - surviving the scrutiny of the croupiers and pit bosses.

My goals were somewhat different than those of the professional gambler: I was more interested in functionality and capability than in concealment, and so, ended up with a more cumbersome system, though this has gotten smaller and lighter in more recent years, to the point where I can now wear it much of the time.

Currently, in my hat, I have an antenna that wirelessly connects me to the Internet through a network of antennas that I have erected on rooftops of various buildings. I put one of my antennas on the roof of the tallest building in this city so that I could also get some degree of connectivity from nearby cities. This has allowed me to explore, in recent years, near-constant connectivity to the Internet (of course, because the system is experimental, it is down quite a bit of the time, so I am not *always* able to stay online). I'm currently trying to get others online as well. Furthermore, with the current (or soon-to-be) availability of commercial systems such as Metricom, Wavelan, and Motorola, getting more `smart clothing' online will soon be trivial.

Having an Internet-connected computer in my clothing has allowed me to explore the obvious things like reading my email while standing in line at the bank by virtue of my "smart glasses" (eyeglasses with miniature sensor array and cathode-ray tube), or typing a report or paper like this one, while I am walking down the street. Beyond just typing, when I am shopping, my wife can remotely look at whatever I'm looking at, and email me comments about the fruits and vegetables I am choosing, or remind me to pick up some milk if she sees I have forgotten it. The miniature cameras and computer screen inside my eyeglasses provide me with a dual-adaptation space. Unlike the standard multimedia computer, my cameras and microphones are pointed at what I'm looking at, not at me. This provides my computer with exactly the same perspective that I have, and allows me to explore some of the more fundamental issues in visual memory and computer-mediated reality. Other sensors such as infared and radar, enhance and extend my sensory capabilities, allowing me to explore some new concepts in synthetic synesthesia, which might someday be of assistance to the visually challenged. Perhaps someday we'll become cyborgian - our clothing will significantly enhance our capabilities without requiring any conscious thought or effort.

In more recent years, with the advent of the World Wide Web, I've been exploring connectivity of a new form. If you take a look at /wearcam, you might be looking at whatever I am looking at right now. The "Wearable Wireless Webcam" has been an exploration of a new form of personal visual connectivity. As an artist's tool, such a device can reduce the time from first seeing something of visual interest, to showing an image in a gallery (completed exhibition), down to a fraction of a second.

Currently, in my clothing, I have 64 megabytes of RAM, a Pentium 90 processor, and a 1.2 gigabyte hard drive. Connected to this are my `smart glasses', my `smart shoes' (with an array of sensors that provide information about my footsteps) and `smart undergarments' that sense, for example, my heart rate, skin resistance, and the like. Should someone pull out a gun and demand cash from me, my `smart clothing' might respond appropriately (video capture/transmission at maximal frame rate, etc.) by virtue of the sudden increase in heart rate without any increase in physical exertion. As a personal safety device, ubiquitous use of `smart clothing' might have the potential to turn the world into a small-town community - a global village as barriers of time and space fall. Privacy is indeed an important consideration, and, in fact, part of my inspiration. Indeed, what I envision is an alternative to the proliferation of Orwellian pole-top surveillance cameras. Government-installed surveillance cameras are typical of many UK cities, and coming to US cities soon if we don't find an alternative. (In Baltimore, the government is already installing a large network of video surveillance cameras throughout the city.) I am hoping, however, that instead of asking the government to install cameras everywhere to reduce crime, we might begin wearing cameras. What I envision is more like David Brin's "Earth" than Orwell's 1984.

Privacy will also be an important consideration with respect to the various sensors we may choose to wear. Currently, even when I take my clothing off at night, I still have on my `smart underwear' which controls the heater in my room. When I first arrive home I am generally too hot from just climbing the stairs, etc., so when I first go to bed, my underwear tells my heater to turn off, but after a couple of hours sleeping, when my metabolism slows down, my underwear senses the resulting changes in my body temperature/conductivity, and turns up the heat. The `smart clothing' of the future may some day be interoperable and interconnected, so that it keeps track of our physical condition and allows us to decrypt this information for evaluation by a doctor or other professional of our choosing.

`Smart clothing' represents a significant future direction for computing. The recent proliferation of wearable computers (there are about 5 companies making wearable computers now) suggests that we're moving in that direction. However, many of the applications of wearable computers so-far envisioned, such as the land warrior (military), the intelligent maintenance aid, or various applications in the workplace [\cite{cacm96}] might better be described as `smart uniforms'. A `smart uniform' might be issued to a soldier or employee at the start of a job, and then taken away after the job is completed.

There is a fundamental difference in the way that people feel about their own clothing as compared to a uniform. Although people can become quite familiar with their uniforms, whether worn in prison, the military, certain workplaces, or old-fashioned schools, the individuality of personal clothing, and the pleasures associated with its selection and wearing should be extended to computing. The full power and enjoyment of this synergy between human and machine will be realized only when the computer is owned, operated, and controlled by the wearer, giving rise to truly personal computing. Indeed, examples of wearable technology at the extreme opposite to the personal wearable, are the wearable ID transponders that have been rejected by many employees, and the devices attached to criminals to keep track of them [\cite{ieeespectrum}]. These devices are owned, operated, and controlled by a remote entity. Some such devices even have the capability to provide the wearer with an "electrical corrective signal" (euphemism for electric shock) when the wearer does something against the will of the entity that controls the system (e.g. ventures outside a prescribed boundary). This prospect is at least as Orwellian as the pole-top surveillance cameras discussed earlier. I hope that we don't see a future in which people (such as employees of a particular company) are required to wear `smart clothing' so that a manager could see or record exactly what any particular employee was doing or looking at at any time.

`Smart clothing' has the potential to provide a very intimate form of interaction with the wearer, as it exists within the wearer's personal space. As such there is both the danger that it could violate this personal space, as well as the safety and capability to provide the wearer greater control. Although I don't expect that everyone will make their own `smart clothing' as I have done, I do expect that much like the cellular telephone, pager, pocket calculator, notebook computer, pocket organizer, wristwatch, and the like, that it will subsume and replace, the most successful wearable technology will be owned, operated, and controlled by the wearer. Much like the wearer's own clothing, this technology should arise out of the wearer's own choosing.


Thomas Bass, "The Eudaemonic Pie"
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, August 1985

Rapid Design and Manufacture of Wearable Computers
CACM, February 1996 - Volume 39, Number 2,   pages 63-67

IEEE SPECTRUM, FEBRUARY 1995,   pages 26-32